Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Rewards of a Closer Look

Ed's Refurbished Miyata
There are bicycles that strike you as unique from the first glance, and then there are those that sneak up on you. When Ed showed me the rando bike he'd put together from a refurbished Miyata frameset, it seemed like a nice enough classic build. Fenders, racks, leather, twine. But on closer inspection, all sorts of curious features emerged.

Ed's Refurbished Miyata
First I noticed the unusual front rack mount. A small DIY bracket at the front curled under and bolted onto the fender. 

Ed's Refurbished Miyata
Initially I assumed this was to add extra stability to the rack. But then I realised the real function of this bracket - in addition to another one extending from the fork crown - was to hold up the fender. Or, more accurately, the front part of the fender. 

Ed's Refurbished Miyata
I had seen split fenders before, but what struck me about these was how subtle they were, how utterly integrated into the overall design of the bike. The split was something I noticed only after my eye led me to it as it moved from one end of the rack to the other. 

Ed's Refurbished Miyata
The tires are 700Cx28mm Gran Compe ENE Ciclo (brown, with tan sidewalls) and Ed was determined to make them fit along with the fenders. The split accomplishes this despite the lack of sufficient clearances under the brake bridge and fork crown. 

Ed's Refurbished Miyata
Both the front and rear racks were recycled from older bikes, and I noticed that the rear one was stamped "Jim Blackburn." This prompted me to look into the history of Blackburn Racks, and indeed they were once called by the name of the founder. The vintage racks - now quite sought after - used a single bracket design to connect to the brake bridge, whereas the Blackburns in current production use a two bracket design to connect to seat stay braze-ons. I also found an interesting article describing Jim Blackburn's contributions to research in weight distribution for loaded touring.

Ed's Refurbished Miyata
The components seemed like a random mix, until Ed explained that he was going for a Suntour-inspired build: mostly vintage Japanese (but no Shimano), with some modern VO and Dia Compe sprinkled in. While such a thing would never have occurred to me, gathering components that made sense within this paradigm had been an important part of putting the bike together, a game he'd enjoyed playing.

Ed's Refurbished Miyata
The more we talked about the bike, the more of these things I discovered. Subtle details, hidden meanings. What looked like "just" a nice bicycle at first glance became fascinatingly personal. And that's the thing about bikes. We don't really know what they mean, or represent to the owner. We don't know what the story behind each one is, until we ask. Maybe that's why I still can't seem to walk past a bicycle without a closer look, or at least a second glance. 

47 comments:

  1. The front fender =constructeur!

    Blackburn - bought one in the mid eighties. On Mrs. GR's bike now, used every work day.

    None of this is genius - I just Macgyvered some fenders w/zips, a drill and a table saw. Yeah it's halves are 'production for use'.

    The front has a 'hand -curated, hand cut' leather flap from my moto jacket.

    This bike's components...well I guess one has to have a raisin to Etre...

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  2. PS Again wit the stem angle controversy. There are RULES you know!

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    1. Apologies, I havent read the rule book. Let borrow your copy when you've finished please.
      ed.

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    2. Tongue in cheek my boy, tongue firmly in cheek. Plenty of seventeeners on the bay tho. Shimaner too.

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    3. It's a vintage book; very rare but sometimes on ebay for $XXXX

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  3. Eh I just saw the Weigle -- propah front rack placement.

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  4. That's rather well done. In general I dislike interrupted rear fenders -- too obviously a hack -- but, if you have to live with such a hack, this one is indeed very well done. (I've taken a hammer to rear brake bridges when they were too low, but I have to admit that that, too, is rather unfinished looking.)

    I also like the upjutter stem: far nicer looking IMO than a huge expanse of quill on a "7" stem. What is this one? I'd say old Ritchey, but those, IIRC, were 90* and this one has a greater angle. Quite nice.

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  5. Thanks for this post, showing how an apparently ordinary bike can be so interesting. It comes down to looking after the tiny details doesn't it? Very nice to see how the personal touches and modifications are so functional, rather than just decorative.

    Have you got a shot of how those gear levers are attached?

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    1. The levers are suntour symetrics center mount on the factory single downtube boss.
      http://www.velobase.com/ViewComponent.aspx?ID=4cb7e658-e09e-4950-a283-2787beac2bb0

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  6. Beautiful and interesting build. Now I want to refurbish an older bike again.

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  7. That's an interesting fix to the minimal clearance between front wheel and fork. I have a Miyata and have had this same issue with front fender. As a matter of fact my current fender is worn thin because of this.

    This seems like a failing on the manufacturers part. Why build a touring bike (mine is a 610 Grand Touriing model) but leave scant clearance for fenders?

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  8. Oooh, Nicely done. Something like that adds a little satisfaction to the ride every time you climb aboard. I bet most everything else on that bike has had some time spent making it just right even where it doesn't show.

    Spindizzy

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  9. "This prompted me to look into the history of Blackburn Racks, and indeed they were once called by the name of the founder."

    It made me chuckle that you had to look this up, but I guess it makes sense considering your age. Do you not see many of these in Boston?

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    1. Nope. Here I see mostly Pletscher and even some older French racks. However the Jim Blackburns do not look particularly "vintage" to me, so it could be that I simply haven't been noticing them - thinking they were just garden variety current production racks.

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    2. The old Jim Blackburn racks are simple, elegant, and surprisingly strong. The same rack has been moved from bike to bike since the early 80's. And btw, Blackburn had both single and double bracket designs when they came out. The double presented problems for most bikes b/c few had eyelets for them and required clamps and while they came in a few sizes they lacked adjustability.

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    3. Always been curious about what informs your idea of vintage...

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    4. Loosely: I think of it as at least 1 generation removed from current production.

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  10. Great looking bike, and I'm sure it is a joy.

    When I see details like the split fenders, I think "which came first?". Did the desire for more effective short reach brakes make the split fenders necessary? Split fenders seem less effective, getting the brakes dirty, but do solve the problem of clearance with short reach brakes. Are longer-reach brakes, which would have make the split fenders unnecessary, that much less effective? I know Tektro extra long reach brakes are quite effective.

    Please don't take this as criticism, the bike is great looking and very interesting.

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    1. Pretty sure the reason for the split was clearance under the bridges, not reach. I think he has medium reach Tektros installed here.

      On my own bike, I'd be less concerned about the brakes getting dirty than about spray coming in through the gaps, so I'd love to hear about that aspect from those who ride bikes with this setup.

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    2. I have a Miyata 610 with original cantilever brakes. There is barely room for front fenders, but adequate clearance in the rear. I don't know what model this beauty is, but I presume it's the fork that's the problem and not the brake system.

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    3. Split fenders = just a solution for tire clearance in this case. There wasn't another way to install these fenders on this bike, even if I were running 25s instead of 28s
      -ed

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  11. For me it's always about the small details, and Ed's bike has them in droves! Nicely done!

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  12. I think it would make a nice 650b conversion. I'm not a big fan of reach around fenders. In my experience it can get pretty messy.

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    1. true, it probably would make a good 650b;
      my daily commuter/liquor-limo is already a 650b conversion with porteur bars, sram x9 trigger shifters, and plenty of room for tires and fenders...
      this bike was just a different game for me.
      -ed

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  13. very concise and well written article;many knowledgeable(older?experienced?tour bike educated?0 cyclists appreciate and know what great bikes(and values) bikes from 70s to early 90s are and how satisfying it is to build a unique and interesting machine on a budget;your story confirms this!

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  14. Old J Geils Blues , "First I look at the Purse " NAh , a purse is just a accessory . Old Cinellis . had very pretty mudguards !

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  15. Nice build, 650b conversion might clear up the fender clearance issue, but not necessarily. My husband has a couple of older bikes that are 'sports touring' but have no clearance for fenders let along wider tires. He is going to try 650b with one bike. I have a vintage 'audaux' frame that I will convert to 650b because it's just a bit too tall with 700 tires, but cannot go wider than 32mm because of lack of clearance. Some frames were designed for narrow tires in mind.

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  16. Was that frame designed for allen bolt brake mounts or nutted? Looking at the pics there is some sort of bolt extension sleeve being used. I have a 1982 fuji frame which requires nutted brake calipers, but I would like to use some newer Tektros that are allen. Anyway, nice build.

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    1. Frame was made for recessed allen mount brakes, "sheldon fender nuts" were used to secure calipers and give additional fender mounts fr&rr

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  17. His use of SunTour components for the drivetrain no doubt is to match up with the SunTour top-mount downtube shifters, another unique feature as they require a braze on TOP of the downtube to mount.

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    1. I just love suntour, the goal was to have no shimano and no european parts at all, while still having a nicely functioning bike. Originally I tried to source a center mount downtube double cablestop that suntour made in the 80s in order to use my old barcons. Alas I could not find one to buy anywhere, so i got some nos symmetrics instead. The self trimming function of the shifter actually works great, so it was a fine compromise...

      Still would love to find one of these little dealies though:
      http://imagehost.vendio.com/c/3561856/view/1145278157058_suntour_aerostop.jpg

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    2. It wouldn't be too difficult to fabricate a double stop to attach to the existing braze-on. I have a circa 1982 Centurion with the same shifter and will probably do just that when I convert it to 650b for one of my daughters.

      I try to maintain a Shimano-free zone on most of my bikes too...

      Spindizzy

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  18. Today's topic reminds me of one aspect of bikes that has always appealed to me: they can be really inexpensive. I think of a man in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury who used to cell used and refurbished bikes to local kids who had little money. I seem to remember the going price to be about $25 some twenty years ago. I recall walking through that same city's Western Addition and being approached by one little boy with a pair of Vice-Grips who gestured for me to help him tighten his seat post clamp. Sadly the threads on the bolt were stripped and there was nothing I could do for this despondent little guy. I also think sometimes of the bamboo-framed bikes that might prove helpful to development in some African countries. I was in Sicily once and saw new children's bikes on sale for 50 euro. My Sicilian friend wondered if such an inexpensive bike would last any time at all. I could only sheepishly shrug my shoulders because I had just given him a bike that cost over $2500. When I was living as an exchange student in London in the mid-80s I remember pulling a bicycle out of a dumpster (excuse me, a skip) to howls of laughter from a group of passing British students who exclaimed that the recent dip in the value of the dollar had really driven Americans to desperate measures. I think all that bike needed was a chain and new inner tubes, probably costing no more than 10 pounds at the time. I loved that bike and I will never forget it, and no matter how much I spend on a bike today, I will never be able to recapture the some feeling of joy that I got from riding it, or from seeing my friend ride it, the day I left London.

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  19. Those top of the downtube mounted "aero" shifters were also offered by Shimano. I think bikes were spec'd with them for one year--around 1984 IIRC.

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  20. Ed--This build is awesome, except for the stem. I like the bike, but I am puzzled by any aversion to Shimano, especially if you're OK with Tektro and VO. I am a huge Suntour fan, but given the dearth of parts available to support their indexed stuff, I stick primarily to friction stuff (or, indexed stuff set on friction mode, where applicable.)

    Dave-- Using longer- or shorter- reach brakes won't solve any problems; one selects the brakesets that will work with the frame/fork/wheel combo in question. Longer reach brakes wouldn't solve the issue of too little room between the tire and brake bridge, and would add the problem of putting the brake pads beyond the rims' braking surface.

    -rob

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    1. I puzzled over which stem to use for a while, in the end I decided that for this detail i cared more about my position than the stem angle, and I definitely like this stem better than like 8 inches of technomic; its way stiffer and a good bit lighter as well. I actually like the way the stem looks both on its own and on the bike now that I've gotten used to it.

      Yup this is all friction, I just avoided shimano or any european parts for this build in particular.
      Thus v.o. and tektro etc., modern dp brakes, big comfy levers, and leather, but made somewhere in asia...
      I believe the american rear rack is the only exception

      This bike was as much about breaking other peoples rules as it was about following my own made up rules.

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    2. I would say the hypotenuse is shorter than the equivalent Technomic's two triangulated sides, but by no means would they add up to 8 inches (I know, tongue in cheek). However it is theoretically stronger. Having 3 Technos I can say: they are flexy (than what GRJ?), quite heavy and, in a psycho-babble way, visually steer the bike forward, i.e. it just looks faster. Whatever.

      I see the stem mimicing the dt and it doesn't work for me but visual rules are meant to be broken.

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  21. "OMG the stem is hideous", who cares. VO one is 1/3$ of Nitto (actually probably free cuz this Ed person is no doubt a cheap skate who found it in a bin). Nice build though; these type of features take time and effort to look decent, esp when there are no mounts for racks... Don't get down on your build b/c some internetz tough guy says its wrong, it's your bike build it and ride it how you want.

    Tongue in bum me boy, tongue firmly in bum.

    ARLR

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  22. Ed, nicely done - congratulations! What rear hub/freewheel/cassette assembly are using? Thanks very much.

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    1. Superbe pro nos rear fw hub with *ack* sunrace 7spd freewheel(chosen due to lack of asian selection here, and the fact that ird are 2wice the cost at no better quality or longevity) im waiting for a nos suntour 6 or 7spd to fall on me for not the $100+ that euroasiaimports want for one.(im totally a cheapskate for this build, wicked polishing a turd dude!)

      Suntour:
      Cyclone fr hub
      Superbe pro nos rear hub
      I built 3leading 3trailing to v.o. pbp 700c rims(my1st wheelset)
      Cyclone frt derailleur
      Superbe pro rear derailleur
      Cyclone cranks
      Cyclone pedals
      Symetrics topmount shifters

      V.o.
      Pbp rims
      Chromoly rise stem
      Model 1 saddle
      Braided stainless cable housing
      Leather handlebar tape(while not silicon impregnated and waterproof like brooks, they're seamless, so I like them better)
      Aluminum fenders(split by me)
      Ene ciclo brown tires(love em or hate em they were chosen to keep the color palette down to just orange, brown, and polished silver only)
      And the stupid little leather toeclip covers I sewed on all by myself

      Tektro
      Ergo levers
      R536 calipers(with koolstop salmon cartridge pads)

      Nitto
      Noodles dude.

      Racks
      Fr vintage japan
      Rr jim blackburn
      Both generously donated by Jim A. at harris cyclery

      And crane
      With the brass bell.

      Ps:
      Sjscycles uk has nos superbe pro rear fw hubs for like $80 shipped... not that there's a huge draw for them

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    2. Oh yeah, thanks too.

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    3. SunTour freewheels are like $10 to $25 if you pay for one. They are everywhere. There is precious little to make the later pricier Winner freewheel any more desireable than a Perfect or 8.8.8.

      To make them last effectively forever remove the cover plate. At that point it should be clear how the beastie works. Add 1/8" ball bearings until the races are full, then remove 3 bearings from each race. (There are never enough bearings in these. And it won't work if the race is completely full.) Pack with Phil grease or anything similar. Now the only thing that wears out is the sprocket teeth.

      I've no idea how many millions of old SunTour freewheels are floating around out there. There are probably enough NOS to keep those who want them rolling for the next century. Include ones that have only been used for a few hundred miles and it's infinite compared to the rather small demand. Enough that you should never use much less pay for SunRace or IRD.

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  23. Odd that no one mentioned the paint. I like it! I recently rattle-canned my '81 Le Tour with flat black rustoleum and I am VERY satisfied with the results. But that orange is pretty sharp. Looks like a satin finish, also.

    I envy your talent for sourcing parts cheaply, Ed. I am limited to my fingers hovering nervously over the keyboard before I punch "order now" for some shiny new bit for my old bicycle.

    tj

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  24. Those top of the downtube mounted "aero" shifters were also offered by Shimano. I think bikes were spec'd with them for one year--around 1984 IIRC.

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  25. Who knew Blackburn racks are now considered vintage? I didn't think I was old yet. The Blackburn company (since bought by Bell, the helmet folks), still makes at least one rack (the XR-1) that can use a single centrally mounted strut that attaches at the rear brake mount.

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